While I was on the road, I was still the star-struck kid. Even though we had a hit record and were hearing ourselves on the radio on a daily basis and signing autographs regularly, I wasn’t so impressed with myself that I couldn’t get excited with seeing a rock star in person; especially someone with the renown of Janis Joplin. As an aside, I should mention that many of my experiences from those days have been hidden in the recesses of my memory and rarely spoken of, since I always fear that someone will take me for a pathological liar. But, on to the tale.
At Sicks Stadium, in Seattle, we were to play a festival that included name acts like Janis, The Youngbloods, The Allman Brothers and more. I had heard through the grapevine that Janis was resting in her trailer, which was no surprise since we were all pretty worn out from the road in those days. After watching one of the guitarists from the Youngbloods (of the hit song “Get Together”) cut the old strings off his guitar in a way that made me wince, and start to restring it, I took a little walk around the park. That was when I saw that flaming star. It was almost a magical moment for me.
Janis was dressed head to foot in an expandable knit purple outfit, with matching hat and feather boa; pretty much just how you’d expect her to look. I was nearly breathless. Trying to hide my excitement (and act cool, I suppose), I approached her until I got close enough not to totally invade her space and waited for her to look my way. She turned, smiling, and I immediately blurted out something like, “Janis, you don’t know me but I’m Kenny from PG&E and I have been a fan of yours long before I got on the road with them.”
She was so gracious. She started chatting with me like an old friend. She asked if I had heard the ‘Full Tilt Boogie Band’, which had recently replaced Big Brother as her backup band. I admitted I hadn’t. At that point she began praising them and told me to be sure to stay and hear them play that evening at the concert.
I noticed that she was very animated, and not high or drunk as I had expected. She almost sparkled. Nevertheless, she was periodically swigging off of what appeared to be a pint bottle of something from a brown paper sack. Trying to keep the conversation going, I asked her what was in the sack. Without speaking, she handed me the bag-wrapped bottle and indicated that I should take a taste. In those days, I never refused anything drinkable or smokeable, so I took a good-sized slug. The rush I got from the potent liquor reminded me of a cough medicine from my childhood known as Terpin Hydrate, which had a high alcohol content and a bizarre form of cherry flavor. When I told her this, she chuckled with the exact same laugh as the one at the end of her recording of “Mercedes Benz”, and told me in that raspy Janis voice, “It’s Southern Comfort, baby."
So, on that sunny day in Seattle, Washington, Janice Joplin gave me my first taste of Southern Comfort.